Skip navigation

Category Archives: 4. Visibility

This category is for Calvino’s Memo of Visibility.

Calvino describes Visibility by saying “a story is the union of a spontaneous logic of images and a plan carried out on the basis of rational intention.” The main emphasis here is that of the imagination. Calvino says that he always starts a story by expanding from an image that struck him as particularly meaningful. He argues there are two types: words that then become an image (such as reading), and an image being formed into words (writing).

Storobinksi believed there were two definitions of imagination: it could either be an instrument of knowledge, or the soul of the world. Calvino states he sides with the latter choice.

Following from what Calvino believes, I think both the reader and the author have a certain responsibility to each other. The author needs to be able to convey images through words, and the reader needs to be able to take those words and form them back into images.

One analogy that immediately struck me as suitable for the author-reader relationship in Visibility was the compression of images on the computer. Suppose an artist creates a vast, beautiful image and he wants to send it to a friend online. However, the image is too big to send, so he has to compress it. He compresses his image so it is smaller, and the computer turns it into a simple code that can be transferred much more easily. The image is sent, and the author’s friend opens the file and decompresses the code, and he is able to see the image.


In my mind, this is very analogous to the process of converting images in the mind into type, an then the reader converting those words back into images. And if the author doesn’t have a good grasp on the Visibility of his work, it will suffer and the reader will have a hard time conjuring (or decompressing) the images.

Calvino made a really great metaphor pertaining to Visibility. He said “letters and punctuation are grains of sand in a shifting dune.” So, my immediate thought was that a great emblem for Visibility would be a quantity of sand.


Sand can pretty much be formed into anything, either naturally or by man. It has that amazing property of being able to take any form. I think one reason the Sandman got his name is because he creates dreams as he puts people to sleep, dreams that can take any form (and not just because he sprinkles sand in your eyes while you sleep).

Also, sand was crucial in the development of languages. Before there was paper or things to write on, I’m sure early humans drew pictures in the sand to communicate. Then, as languages developed, they began writing those codes in the sand. It’s quite possible code itself was conceived in the dirt. Now, languages are similar to sand in that the words and symbols can be moved around until they are just right. For these reasons, sand is a terrific emblem for the concept of Visibility because it allows ideas to take shape.

“Carving in Possibilities” by Deena Larsen is a great example of Visibility. Her piece uses the mouse to carve a picture of the statue of David out of an initially blurry image. Each point of progress in the picture has a line of text that goes with it. Gradually, by reading each line, the blurry image takes shape to form David’s statue.


Not only is that statue a clear evocation of Visibility, the captions are as well. Each line is a thought that somehow relates to David from varying points of view. From the combination of these excerpts, the reader gets an image of not only what David looks like, but people’s disposition of him as well. It’s a very generative piece that creates both a visual and personal construct of David.

“Carving in Possibilities” can be found here.

One idea by Hayles present in “Carving in Possibilities” is the concept of hyper attention versus deep attention. Hyper attention is a mindset that emphasizes quick thoughts, changing trains of thought, and fast-paced multitasking, while deep attention is the traditional mindset of focusing on one task for a length of time. While classic texts require deep attention to concentrate on, many E-Lit texts require hyper attention.

“Carving in Possibilities” is one such example of hyper attention because it is a fast-paced work that is twitch-responsive to user input. The slightest movement of the mouse will generate a new quote on the screen and reveal a bit more of the image. Instead of a slow, thought-out work that reads slowly, this piece can be read and completed in a matter of seconds. It is a piece laden with distraction and stimuli, one of the features of hyper attention.

(Continue on to Memo 5. Multiplicity.)